VERA FILES FACT CHECK: After long absence from public view, Duterte makes three inaccurate claims in April 12 talk

Read this fact check in Filipino

After disappearing from public view for almost two weeks, President Rodrigo Duterte appeared on April 12 in his regular “Talk to the People” address, but made three inaccurate claims in his 20-minute opening remarks.

VERA Files Fact Check reviewed his claims and identified one false, one flip-flop, and another that needs context. Read on to know more about each claim:

On sounding an alarm against the COVID-19 threat


This was at least the second time on VERA Files Fact Check’s count that Duterte falsely said he immediately raised an alarm against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte says he's been warning of 'deadly' COVID-19 from the beginning. Not quite.)

In two speeches in February 2020, Duterte framed the threat of COVID-19 as something that was neither alarming nor a cause for Filipinos to become “hysterical.”

In a Feb. 3, 2020 speech, three days after the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed the first COVID-19 fatality in the country, which was also the first outside China, he said the virus would “just die a natural death … even without a vaccine,” similar to other contagions like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Duterte says the new coronavirus is similar to HIV. Is that so?)

In another televised video message on Feb. 14, 2020, the president encouraged Filipinos to travel “with me” around the country and assured that “everything is safe” in terms of health, law and order, and accessibility. This came two days after the Tourism department estimated at least P42.9-billion loss in tourism revenue in case of a three-month ban for non-Filipino travellers heading to or from China and the territories of Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.

The Philippines recorded its first-ever case of COVID-19 on Jan. 30, 2020 involving a female traveller from Wuhan City, China — the origin of the first COVID-19 outbreak. Since then, various quarantine measures have been implemented sporadically in the country to stem the spread of the virus.

As of April 22, confirmed cases in the country have reached 971,049, of which 107,988 are active. Another 16,370 have died and 846,691 have recovered.

On getting the COVID-19 vaccine


Duterte has been changing his stance on when and whether he would receive a COVID-19 vaccine. From volunteering to be the first to get vaccinated in public to saying that he would be last, to deferring to his doctor’s advice last February, Duterte is now saying that he would “waive” his vaccine slot due to his age (76 years old). (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: The evolution of Duterte's COVID-19 vaccination: From 'first' to 'last' to 'not allowed')

On Filipino citizens aged 70 and above being excluded from the COVID-19 vaccination priority list


Filipino citizens aged 60 and above are second in the government’s 12-tier list of priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination, next to the estimated 1.7 million frontline healthcare workers, the DOH list of priorities shows.


According to DOH, senior citizens are prioritized for vaccination because they face the “greatest risk of severe infection or deaths” due to COVID-19.

The vaccination of senior citizens, classified as A2, started in late March in some parts of the country, particularly in Metro Manila, after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) allowed simultaneous inoculation with other top priority groups, such as the healthcare workers (A1) and persons with comorbidities (A3).

Under the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program, only two of the seven vaccine brands are currently available — AstraZeneca and Sinovac. Of the two, only AstraZeneca vaccines were approved initially for use on senior citizens.

However, due to limited supply of AstraZeneca jabs and the need to inoculate the elderlies amid surging COVID-19 cases in the country, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and DOH allowed on April 7 the use of Sinovac vaccines, which was first approved only for persons 18 to 59 years old, on senior citizens,


RTVMalacanang, PRRD’s Meeting on COVID-19 Concerns and Talk to the People on COVID-19 4/12/2021, April 12, 2021

On sounding an alarm against the COVID-19 threat:

RTVMalacanang, Briefing on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus - Acute Respiratory Disease 2/3/2020, Feb. 3, 2020

Department of Tourism, President Duterte Invites Filipinos to Travel Around the Country, Feb. 14, 2020

Loss in tourism revenues due to COVID-19


Department of Health, DOH COVID-19 Case Bulletin #404, April 22, 2021

On getting the COVID-19 vaccine:

PTV, PANOORIN: Laging Handa Special Coverage | March 1, 2021, March 1, 2021

Presidential Communications Operations Office, Talk to the People of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19):

Presidential Communications Operations Office, Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Jan. 19, 2021

Presidential Communications Operations Office, Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Feb. 15, 2021

Office of the Presidential Spokesperson, Press Briefing of Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Feb. 22, 2021

On Filipino citizens aged 70 and above being excluded from the COVID-19 vaccination priority list:

Department of Health, Where am I in the prioritization list?, April 16, 2021

Department of Health, 4. Who gets the vaccine first?, March 21, 2021

Department of Health, IATF Resolution No. 106

Metro Manila LGUs senior citizens vaccination starts

Food and Drugs Administration, Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for COVID-19 Vaccine (ChAdOx1- S[recombinant]) (COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca), Jan. 28, 2021

Food and Drugs Administration, Republic of the Philippines Department of Health FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION 22 February 2021 IP BIOTECH, INC. Emergency Use Au, Jan. 28, 2021

Department of Health, What is the required age for vaccination?, March 28, 2021


Department of Health, Department Memorandum No. 2021-0175

Department of Health, Why do we need to have prioritization?, Accessed April 22, 2021

(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)


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